Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— the surge in Covid-19 cases across the country;

— the continued public health guidelines and restrictions and their effects on employment and people’s movement;

— the consequences for many thousands of workers across the country;

— the likelihood that other counties may join Dublin and Donegal in higher levels of restrictions in the coming weeks;

— that the Government rhetoric of ‘in this together’ is contradicted by the cuts to the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and the ending of the eviction ban and rent increases;

— the need for the income of all workers and their households to be guaranteed in order to allow for the successful implementation of the necessary public health measures;

— that in recent weeks over 19,000 new claimants have applied for the PUP, reflecting the consequences of the current surge; and

— the increases in those claiming the PUP in areas affected by the recent restrictions, with Dublin, for example, now accounting for over 85,000 claimants in total with 10,000 new claimants directly following the increased restrictions;

condemns:

— that on 17th September, the Government moved to reduce the PUP for the second time;

— this move, which reduced the payments to over 217,000 people by €50, with many others seeing a reduction of €100 per week;

— these cuts which come on top of an earlier reduction that affected over 60,000 workers in June;

— that the Government added a new requirement for all recipients of the PUP to be seeking work;

— that on 1st September, the State reduced the amount of subsidy to employers in receipt of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) which has had an impact on many workers’ pay;

— that this entailed a reduction for workers from a headline figure of €410 to €203 per week; and

— that the Government did this with no attempt to ensure employers availing of the scheme would top-up the income of workers who faced this cut;

recognises that:

— the fight against Covid-19 is ongoing with future surges and waves that will continue to restrict employment and movement across the country; and

— those workers affected will need income guarantees to cope with the ongoing effects of the pandemic;

calls on the Government to:

— immediately reverse the cuts to the PUP introduced on 17th September;

— ensure that all workers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic are supported with a minimum payment of €350 per week, including those over the age of 65 and seasonal workers;

— ensure that workers in the taxi, arts, entertainment, events, hospitality and tourism industries, and others whose industries are specifically affected and show no sign of returning to pre-Covid-19 levels of activity in the medium term, are supported with tailored and targeted schemes, involving step-down payments to allow for partial returns to work in an ongoing Covid-19 crisis;

— remove the requirement for all recipients of the PUP to be seeking work;

— review, in the interests of equality, all other social welfare payments, including disability, pensions, jobseekers and others with a view to establishing a universal minimum welfare payment of at least €350 per week to lift all in Irish society out of poverty; and

— ensure all employers availing of the EWSS are topping up their employees’ wages; and

further calls on the Government to ensure that:

— profitable companies, and companies with reserves, are not permitted to avail of the scheme, unless they can clearly demonstrate an inability to pay, or use this crisis to arbitrarily cut their employees’ earnings;

— where an employer can clearly demonstrate an inability to pay top-ups to their employees, that workers’ incomes continue to be supported by the State, and that this be funded through a Covid-19 levy on large profitable enterprises; and

— where a complaint against an employer is upheld by the Workplace Relations Commission or Labour Court under the Payment of Wages Act, 1991, regarding deductions from an employee’s pay, that employer shall lose their entitlement to the EWSS."

The essence of this motion is a call to reverse the cutbacks in the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment and restore it to €350. The budget being introduced in the Dáil next Tuesday should include a provision to that effect. I want to make a point to every single Government backbencher and every Deputy from Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. These Members will be under a lot of pressure to vote for the budget. Most of them will have no problem with it whatever. However, if they are opposed to the cut to the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment, they must vote for this motion tonight. I will be watching the Fianna Fáil and Green Party backbenchers very carefully to see which way they vote. The majority of many of these Members' constituents and voters will want them to vote for this motion because they are opposed to the cut.

The Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment was cut on 17 September to €300 for some people and €250 for others. In other words, a cut was made of €100 a week for some and €50 a week for others. In fact, the Government planned further cutbacks. It planned to cut the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment back to a maximum of €250 in February and €203 in April.

To be clear, these cuts do not affect people on high or medium incomes. They are affecting low-income people and families. These people have not been slightly affected by the pandemic. They have been hit very hard. They are out of work as a result of the pandemic. Apart from people who have contracted the virus and suffered ill health and worse as a result, these people are among the hardest hit. The Government is hitting them to the tune of €50 or €100 a week, with more to come.

Who are the 200,000 people on the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment? We are told that one in four works in the accommodation and food sectors, that is, 51,000 people. Many of them are arts workers or taxi drivers. A large proportion of them are young and work in precarious jobs. These are people whose standard of living is precarious at the best of times. We know for sure that they have not been living the high life in recent months. The payment is being used first and foremost to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and keep the wolf from the door. This motion aims to support and advance the interests of those people.

A simple and obvious question arises. Why was it right, proper and reasonable to give €350 to people locked out of work as a result of the virus in March and April if it is not okay to pay them now, despite the fact that their circumstances have not changed? Why is it okay to pay people €250 or €300 a week now, with the threat of further cuts, when that was not sufficient at the start of the year? When the cuts introduced on 17 September were being prepared during the summer months, the Government and the Minister may have thought there would not be much of an outcry because the numbers availing of the payment were decreasing. The virus was under a degree of control and its incidence in society was in decline. However, we now have the opposite situation. The virus and the restrictions are now on the increase. If the virus is strengthening, the supports for those it has hit must be strengthened as well. I see that in County Donegal, which has been on level 3 for some time, the number of people who were forced to apply for the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment increased last week by almost 2,000. That is indicative. If level 3 applies throughout the country, with the possibility of having to move to level 4 or worse in the weeks ahead, it seems fairly obvious that the number of people who need the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment will increase, not decrease. It is unacceptable to ask an increased number of people to survive on €250 a week when their job would have paid a multiple of that and they have families to feed and dependants to provide for. This is a further argument for reversing these cuts at the very least.

The other argument against the motion was made yesterday morning by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, in an interview on Cork's Red FM. He said that the country cannot afford to pay a €350 Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment if it is to be in place until next April. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said it might be necessary to keep paying it after that.

This is a question that is in the minds of many ordinary people and, for them, it is a legitimate question which the movers of the motion need to answer, and I am going to attempt to answer it.

The basic point is that Ireland is a wealthy country. There is a serious amount of wealth in this country but it is very poorly distributed. In fact, a tiny minority of people control the majority of the wealth. We have seen already how the Government turned its back on the opportunity to go after €14 billion in back tax from one of the biggest corporations in the world, Apple. We also have a situation, as The Sunday Times rich list informed us, where a mere ten individuals own and control between them a combined wealth of €50 billion.

I put it to the Minister and to the Government that it is obscene for the Government to say to some of the lowest income people in society, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic, who are locked out of their jobs as a result of the virus, that they are the ones who must tighten their belts and who must make sacrifices, while it will not even entertain the idea of a debate on the issue of wealth taxes. We need more than a debate on wealth taxes; we need wealth taxes to be introduced.

I will finish on the point on which I began. We have a budget next Tuesday. That budget should do many things, but two of the things it should do are to restore the €350 pandemic unemployment payment and to introduce serious wealth taxes in order to pay that and other necessary measures.

The Tánaiste, Deputy Leo Varadkar, surprised the nation on Monday night not by his cynical attack on NPHET, not by his undermining of public health advice in general in an extremely dangerous way, but by his newfound concern for ordinary people. All of a sudden, Deputy Leo Varadkar is a champion of mental health, opposed to poverty and stands up for the ordinary worker. He forgot how it was his Government which slashed the budget for mental health in the last term. He forgot that, just last week, he voted against a motion to eradicate child poverty. Most of all, he forgot about his actions in regard to the ordinary worker because he said nobody on NPHET will have to go onto the PUP of €350, or now €300 or less, as a result of going to level 5. He did not mention, of course, that he is not going to have to either.

What he also did not mention is that his Government is responsible for cutting this already inadequate amount of money. He bears responsibility for that. He also failed to mention that, earlier this year when he was Taoiseach and when the Government started talking about cutting the €350 payment, I challenged him to live on €350 per week, which was the sum before he cut it. He did not take me up on that offer, nor has any Minister.

For the Government, it seems that a cut of €50 in people's weekly income is not a big deal. What is €50 for them? For a Government Minister, €50 is a lunch or a bottle of wine, but for families across the country, €50 is the groceries for half a week or more, the gas bill for a month or a few weeks of electricity. The sum of €50 may be spare change for the Taoiseach on his €550 a day salary but for those on low incomes, whether the Government knows it or not, it is the difference between being able to get by in lockdown and simply not being able to get by. We have a Government of millionaires protecting the billionaires and hammering ordinary people.

Thousands of pub and restaurant workers are out of work today as a result of the Government moving to level 3 last night. Thousands more retail and other workers fear they could be next. They need and are crying out for support but the Government is turning its back on them. In March, the Government accepted that no one should be driven into poverty or homelessness by following the health advice. That is what the €350 payment was about: it was the Government accepting that that is the minimum people needed to survive. Now, however, this Government of millionaires is telling workers that €350 a week is too much for them.

These are hard-working people who have sacrificed a lot to fight the pandemic. They have lost their jobs and the Government wants to take their dignity away too. It is time to reverse the cut to the PUP and to restore the €350 payment. Why does the Government say it cannot do it? During Question Time yesterday, the Taoiseach came out and simply said that we cannot afford to do it. It is funny, but we never hear the Government say it cannot afford to hire another special political adviser or to pay another full salary for a Minister of State. The line only ever appears to be trotted out when it comes to supporting ordinary people.

It is a lie. The idea that we cannot afford to pay people a minimum of €350 a week to survive is a lie. The reality is there is huge wealth in this country but the Government of millionaires is more focused on protecting the billionaires from taxes than it is on protecting ordinary people from poverty and from homelessness. The reason the Government says we simply cannot do it is because it is unwilling to touch the amassed wealth of the super-wealthy and the billionaires in this country, it is unwilling to tax the massive profits of the corporations and it is unwilling to go after the likes of the Larry Goodmans, the Denis O'Briens and the elites in this country who have huge amounts of money. It is unwilling to do it, but it is willing to make the supposedly hard political choice to stick the boot into ordinary people.

The truth is Ireland has the fifth highest number of billionaires in the world per capita. The truth is Ireland is the fifth richest country in the world per capita. There is enormous wealth in this society but the Government refuses to go after it because that is the nature of the capitalist system that it defends and the rule of profit that it defends. There is a growing movement across Europe about who is going to pay for the coronavirus crisis, a movement which says ordinary people, workers across Europe, should stand together and we should refuse to pay. We are not paying for this crisis. Instead, we are calling for a Covid tax on the super-wealthy and the big corporations to pay for this crisis.

I will give an example of the amount of wealth that exists within our society. One of the four demands of this movement for a Covid tax is the idea of a tax on the assets of investment funds and holding companies. An emergency 1% tax on the assets of investment funds and holding companies in Ireland would bring in almost €24 billion and it would still leave those companies with hundreds of billions of euro. That is taking 1 cent from every €1 of these holding companies and investment funds, a drop in their vast ocean of wealth. A tax on property transfers at 2% would raise over €1 billion. Increases in tax on net corporate profits exceeding €5 million and a wealth tax would bring in over €10 billion between them. Instead, the Government prefers to cut the income of some of the poorest in this State.

Many people realise that this rule of profit is what is responsible for the ignoring of the public health advice this week and for saying we cannot afford to pay people the minimum of €350. Among people who realise that is the nature of the capitalist system, many will say we cannot afford that system. We cannot afford a system which puts short-term private profit first and which refuses to pay the basics for people to survive in the context of a global pandemic. We simply cannot afford that system. We need a different system, a socialist system, based on public ownership and democratic control of the vast sources of wealth, so that everybody can have a decent life.

To conclude, I want to make a particular point aimed at the Green Party.

It should be ashamed of itself. Its Members stood in the election claiming to stand for social and economic justice. They claimed to stand for tackling inequality. Despite that, only a small number of months in the door, they have already signed off on the cut to the PUP and, without so much as a squeak out of them, are agreeing to drive thousands into poverty. Fianna Fáil Deputies have been more sly, which is typical of the Fianna Fáil approach. They speak out of one side of their mouths and are supposedly campaigning to restore the €350 but are actually letting it be cut. Presumably, they will vote in favour of that cut in next week's budget. Green Party Members have not even done that. They have just sat there silently like a schoolchild in the principal's office doing whatever they are told to do by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Those Green Party Members who previously spoke out against cuts to social welfare and in favour of social equality should speak up now. They should support this motion to restore the PUP's €350 payment, support arts and entertainment workers and taxi drivers, demand that the Government does likewise in next week's budget, and vote against any budget that attacks ordinary people further by maintaining this cut.

We should remember where these cuts came from and the drumbeat of calls to cut the PUP, which was led by Mr. McDonagh from Supermac's and other businesses. It was part of an assault on ordinary workers generally because businesses wanted to drive down general wages in our economy. This is linked to yesterday's pathetic 1% increase in the minimum wage. It is about using the pandemic to reshape the economy in the interests of the 1% and to drive down wages, conditions and rights generally.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“recognises the financial hardship the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed on households;

commits to continuing to support people and businesses affected by Covid-19;

notes that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has spent over €3.68 billion on the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) since its introduction in March 2020, and that this is expected to increase to some €5.2 billion by April 2021;

recognises that the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) are important supports put in place by the Government to counter the economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and that the Government is committed to supporting employment by means of a wage subsidy until the end of March 2021;

notes that TWSS was introduced as an emergency income support for employees of vulnerable firms and was in place from 26th March 2020 until 31st August 2020, and that over this period payments worth €2.85 billion were made to over 66,000 employers with over 664,000 employees receiving at least one subsidy, with an estimated 360,000 employees directly supported by TWSS at its close;

recognises that the PUP was introduced as an emergency measure to support people of working age who lost their employment and was originally intended to be a short 6 to 12 week payment — this scheme has supported almost 800,000 individuals;

recognises that changes to the payment rate since 17th September, 2020, means that the Government is in a position to extend the scheme until April next year and make it more sustainable by linking it to previous earnings;

welcomes that the Government has agreed that the scheme will remain open to new applicants until the end of 2020, and this means that anyone who loses their employment due to Covid-19 over the coming months, including those who may have returned to work but may be affected by new closures, can avail of the support;

notes that the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) was asked to undertake a social impact assessment of the impact of the introduction of revised rates of payment from September 2020 and found that the changes made had very little impact on the risk of poverty or deprivation;

recognises that workers from all sectors have been affected and continue to be affected by the job lay-offs as a result of Covid-19 and that income support arrangements need to treat all affected workers equitably;

notes that those 47,900 recipients whose prior income was less than €200 per week received €203 this week, and are better off than when they were working;

notes that 36,070 people who previously earned between €200 and €300 per week received a payment of €250 this week, and most people on the €250 payment are being paid in line with their pre-Covid-19 weekly income which on average was €248;

recognises that special arrangements are in place for self-employed people, and these arrangements mean that a person does not lose entitlement to the PUP if they take up intermittent or occasional work;

acknowledges that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has advised that it will take a reasonable and flexible approach in applying the ‘genuinely seeking’ work condition to workers who remain temporarily laid off in sectors that have not reopened;

welcomes that a total of some €112 million was provided to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection as part of the July Jobs Stimulus package to provide an expansion in employment services and supports including 45,500 new places on schemes and services — this includes the provision of €12 million for the extension of the Enterprise Support Grant to assist eligible self-employed individuals who exit the PUP to restart their business;

notes that a person of any age, in any sector, who is experiencing financial hardship can apply for financial assistance through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s means-tested Supplementary Welfare Allowance;

welcomes the extensive range of supports provided by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, including the Restart Grant and the Restart Grant Plus which represent a combined total of €550 million set aside to assist businesses to meet ongoing costs while closed, and to help fund reopening costs; and

welcomes the sector-specific initiatives including for those sectors facing prolonged closures, including the arts and entertainment sector, tourism and hospitality and those by the National Transport Authority to assist taxi and other small public service vehicle drivers.”

I fully recognise the hardship that the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed on families and communities across our country. When the pandemic first struck in March, the Government acted swiftly and decisively to introduce a range of income, employment and business supports that were unprecedented in scale. The PUP and the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, were introduced practically overnight and ensured that hundreds of thousands of people were supported and incomes were protected.

The PUP was introduced by my Department as an emergency measure and was originally intended to be a temporary six- to 12-week payment. It is important to remember that, when it was introduced in March, no one believed it would still be in place six months later. It was introduced as a flat payment of €350. The flat payment was not perfect and, as many Deputies will be aware, it attracted plenty of criticism at the time, particularly in cases where people were being paid much more than while they were working. The flat rate payment allowed us to issue payments to more than 600,000 people at speed and ensure that no one was left without an income. It was a case of speed trumping perfection. We needed to get money to people quickly, and that is exactly what we did. Unfortunately, the impact of Covid-19 has been deeper and will last much longer than anyone anticipated in March.

The Government remains absolutely committed to supporting people impacted by the pandemic. That is why we have kept the PUP open for new applicants and extended it until April 2021. This means that what was originally supposed to be a 12-week payment will now be in place for more than a year. By extending the PUP, the Government has ensured that anyone who loses his or her employment due to Covid-19 over the coming months, including those who have returned to work but are now affected by the new level 3 restrictions, can avail of this support.

In order to extend the payment and ensure that we could continue to support those who needed it most, we had to ensure that the rates of payment were sustainable in the long term. In linking the payment to prior earnings, we have sought to protect those on the lowest incomes. For example, people whose prior incomes were less than €200 per week receive €203. They continue to be better off than when they were working. People who previously earned between €200 and €300 per week receive a payment of €250. Most people on the €250 payment are being paid in line with their pre-Covid incomes, which were €248 on average. Anyone whose prior income was more than €300 per week receives a payment of €300 per week. Approximately 129,500 people, or almost 60% of payment recipients, are being paid at the €300 rate. On average, this represents in excess of 60% of prior average income for this group of workers.

It is important to point out that, where people have dependent adults or children, they have the option of applying for a jobseeker's payment, which may actually be more financially beneficial to them.

Contrary to what some Deputies opposite might say, the steps the Government has taken throughout Covid-19 have helped to protect people on the lowest incomes. This is clearly supported by research undertaken by the ESRI, which found that 400,000 families would have seen their disposable incomes fall by more than 20% in the absence of policy measures such as the PUP.

This week, my Department issued payments valued at €55.2 million to 205,590 people in receipt of the PUP. To date, the scheme has supported approximately 800,000 individuals with a total spend of just over €3.6 billion. This spend is expected to increase to over €5.2 billion by April 2021. To put these figures in context, the amount of money spent on the PUP to date equates to over twice the total amount spent on jobseeker's allowance in all of 2019.

In this discussion, we need to be conscious of the other people in receipt of social welfare payments, including the more than 207,000 people currently on the live register. We will have a budget next week, and I must take account of all the other deserving requests from some of the most vulnerable people and sectors in our society – carers, people with disabilities and people who live alone. We need to be fair to them also.

Despite what some might believe, we do not have infinite resources. Thanks to the economic decisions taken by previous Governments, which the Deputies opposite opposed every step of the way, we are able to borrow to help us through this crisis. However, those borrowings will still have to be repaid. That point seems to be lost on some people in the House.

I wish to be clear about the requirement to be genuinely seeking work when one is in receipt of the PUP. My Department takes, and will continue to take, a responsible and flexible approach in respect of workers who remain temporarily laid off in sectors that have not reopened due to Covid-19 restrictions and who expect to return to their employment when their sectors reopen. If someone is impacted by restrictions and is waiting for his or her job to resume, we do not expect him or her to be looking for a job elsewhere. However, if someone has lost a job permanently and wants some assistance to help find work elsewhere, my Department is here to help.

As part of the July stimulus package, the Minister with responsibility for further education, Deputy Harris, and I secured an additional €200 million to expand employment, training and education supports. Any person seeking training or education support can contact the local Intreo centre, which will be happy to assist.

I am aware that self-employed people face a particular challenge in returning to work. Unlike other workers, there is no certainty as to what income a taxi driver, for example, might make upon returning to work. To address this issue, the PUP provides for special arrangements for self-employed people, in that a person does not lose entitlement to the PUP if he or she takes up intermittent or occasional work. This is an important feature for the self-employed, including those in the arts and entertainment sectors who may be offered infrequent gigs and still retain their pandemic unemployment payments. As part of budget 2021, I am exploring options with a view to providing some clarity and certainty to self-employed workers in this regard.

As the House is aware, the TWSS and the new employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, have been important supports operated by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners to employers and employees. The Government is committed to supporting employment by means of a wage subsidy until the end of March 2021. The TWSS, which operated from 26 March until 31 August, provided €2.85 billion to ensure that employees whose employers were affected by the pandemic could receive significant income supports directly from their employers through the payroll system. Over that period, 664,000 employees received the subsidy through the scheme.

At its close, 69,500 employers had registered with Revenue for the scheme. The temporary wage subsidy scheme was replaced with the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, from the beginning of September. This scheme allows employers to seek wage subsidies for a broader range of employees, including new hires and seasonal workers. Over 38,000 employers have registered with Revenue for the scheme to date.

The EWSS is in addition to the extensive range of supports and grants provided across Government to help business through this pandemic. A total of €550 million has been provided through the Government's restart grant to assist businesses to meet ongoing costs while closed and help fund their reopening costs. There are also a number of sector-specific initiatives in place to support the sectors raised by the Deputies today, including the arts, tourism and hospitality sectors. Across Government, we will be looking at further targeted supports to assist those sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.

I assure the House that the Government will continue to support people and businesses impacted by this pandemic as we have done at every stage over the last seven months. The pandemic unemployment payment and the wage subsidy scheme have been unprecedented supports in their scale and reach. They have proven to be extremely effective in maintaining incomes and insulating people against such a sudden and severe income shock. This is obvious from research conducted by the ESRI. In addition, data published by the Central Statistics Office in the past week showed that household disposable income has actually increased year on year by about 5%. Central Bank data also indicate that personal savings have increased dramatically. In fact, they have trebled in value compared with 2019. This Government will continue to act to protect people through the worst impacts of this pandemic. My Department alone will spend €28 billion this year. That will go towards supporting our most vulnerable, such as pensioners, carers, people with disabilities, people who live alone, lone parents and low-income families. We have spent €3.8 billion already on supporting people through the pandemic unemployment payment and we will continue that support until next April. Nobody can predict the trajectory of the virus and the payment may well be needed beyond next April, which is all the more reason that the Government must ensure that it is set at a level which can be sustained for the longer term.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is next on the list.

Is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle sure?

That is what is on my list. The Deputy has been taken by surprise twice.

I wanted to hear from the rest of the Opposition. This is a change in the speaking order but I will speak anyway.

In the self-obsessed, self-serving bubble in which the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government seems to exist, the cut in the PUP does not really matter because those parties are more concerned with trying to hold together their stumbling Government, petulant-----

I seek clarity on a point of order. I thought-----

I think Deputy Sherlock is right.

The Deputy is well used to interrupting in this House when needs be. I am asking for clarity.

I was saying that I think the Deputy is right. I said he was right.

Deputy Boyd Barrett should not shout into the microphone. He should have a little bit of decorum.

Deputy Sherlock should not insult me, then.

May I just have a moment of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's time? I thought the order of speakers went from the Government to Sinn Féin and then to the Labour Party. I seek clarification on that.

I am going by the list before me. That is the list so it was obviously agreed at some stage, though I do not know when. The same confusion arose during Private Members' Business last night.

I am not going to allow an argument.

It is not an argument but this is a fundamental break from the normal speaking order.

I ask Deputy Sherlock to resume his seat for a moment. I understand that there was confusion both last night and today. The confusion is not mine. The speaking times were arranged and are set out before me. The Deputies will have to check with the Business Committee or whoever in their offices decided this.

I sought clarification from the Whip's office last night on the ordering of business for Private Members' time and received it at about 9 o'clock. I received an email to the effect that the order went from the Government, back to Sinn Féin and then to the other Opposition parties. That order seems to have been disrupted.

I have an order before me and I am going to stay with that for ease. Confusion arose last night but nobody lost out. I understand the Deputy's point but he is going to have to take it up with the Whips or the Business Committee.

I genuinely do not want to delay proceedings and I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is in a difficult position but I agree with Deputy Sherlock. I do not know why he is giving out to me. This is our motion. We have introduced it and we want to hear what the other parties have to say before we respond.

I understand that. I do not know where the mistake lies but that is-----

Can we change the order now?

We are going to try to co-operate here. If nobody has a problem with it, I am happy to change the speaking order if it is agreed by the House. However, it is a little difficult at this point because there is a list of speakers before me and they are waiting to speak.

We could just revert to the normal order.

As the list stands, the next speaker is Deputy Boyd Barrett, followed by Sinn Féin's list of speakers, the Labour Party and then the Social Democrats. That is the list as I have it.

I am looking at a list that was sent by our Whip's office. It states that the order goes from the sponsor to the Government, to the sponsor, and then to Sinn Féin, with Deputy Kerrane leading for us. That is the list and I think that is where the confusion is coming from. That came from our Whip's office.

That is in agreement with what is before me, which indicates sponsor, followed by Government and then sponsor.

That is what we were sent.

I am not going to delay any longer.

Can I just make a proposal to the House? I propose that we simply move to Sinn Féin now and Solidarity-People Before Profit will come back after the other Opposition parties; in other words, after the Independent Group. That is the order we previously followed.

I have no difficulty with that if the House is in agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will move straight on to Sinn Féin.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. It is a very timely one, given that the level 3 nationwide restrictions came into effect at midnight. The way we support workers through income supports is particularly important at this time. We know how quickly the number of PUP recipients increased when Dublin and Donegal went into level 3 and so we know that many workers across the State will now reapply for the PUP. This week, over 205,000 people received the PUP. Of those, more than 121,000 received the rate of €300, down from €350 previously. According to a recent reply I received to a parliamentary question, those on €300 per week had average earnings of about €568 pre-Covid and so that cohort of people, which is the vast majority of those receiving the PUP, is down over €200 every single week. Others who previously earned between €200 and €300 a week are receiving €250, so some of them are down €50. People who have lost their jobs and who are now living on a reduced income still have to pay their mortgages because the mortgage break is over. They have to pay their rent because the ban on evictions that gave these workers and families that small protection that ensured they would not be made homeless in the midst of a global pandemic is gone.

Electricity prices increased at the start of this month when Electric Ireland increased its electricity rates. Increases in carbon tax have also occurred and there has been mention of an increase in the public service obligation or PSO levy. We already pay some of the highest electricity prices in Europe and utility bills are building for workers and families at this time.

Not only has the Government cut the PUP, it has also taken away basic protections for people at a time they need them most. The Minister is shaking her head but the mortgage payment break and the ban on evictions are gone now. Those protections are gone.

A recent survey commissioned by MABS suggests that up to 1 million people are worried about meeting their debt repayments. The Minister made reference to the fact that disposable income is on the rise but the reality is that up to 1 million people are worried about debt. MABS has said that a "tsunami of debt" is coming down the track. I carried out an online survey last month. Almost 500 people participated, with nearly equal representation from urban and rural Ireland. A total of 94% of the respondents were concerned about household debt, 80% have seen an increase in their debt since Covid-19 in March, 48% have had to increase their borrowings, 58% are in arrears with certain payments, including utility bills, while 38% were in arrears on their mortgage or rent. What was especially stark about this survey was the number of people who left comments, told their story or shared their own experience. More than 300 of the survey respondents did so. I will give the House a flavour of the comments that were left. One person commented:

Two jobs lost through pandemic, both permanently gone. Had to cancel health insurance that we have had for 30 years due to not being able to afford it anymore.

Another commented:

Shopping on weekly basis is gone as we don't have it, as bills come first... [the] impact on our mental health and physical health is unreal. I am trying to keep things together for the sake of my family. I cry most nights going to bed so my son and husband don't see how much it's taken a toll. My husband has never been out of work and he is finding this extremely hard.

Another said:

We can barely manage to do a weekly shop and feed our kids at the moment and with the mortgage break up now, there's a possibility of homelessness.

Another commented:

I'm about to finish my mortgage break and still can't go back to my job. Worried about getting into arrears.

Another commented:

Not sleeping, anxiety, depression, thinking what's the point anymore.

Yet another commented as follows:

Can't put into words how horrible it is to have to say no to your children when you just can't afford things.

What was most stark about that survey was not so much the impact of the loss of income but the impact on mental health, which is something I hope the Government will address in the forthcoming budget. The survey makes clear that not only do people need income support, they also need mental health support because this is something that will have a long term impact on many workers and families.

I thank Deputies for tabling this motion. I read in a newspaper this morning, as I am sure the Minister did, that some of her colleagues are anxious to get rid of the image of Fine Gael as being the nasty party and she has the opportunity to do so here. The cut to the PUP, coming as it did at a time when advisers were being appointed to Government and some Deputies, although not me or my colleagues in Sinn Féin and others, are accepting a pay increase was appalling. I do not know if the Government is just tone deaf to what is happening. Is it just going to push on regardless? Is it not aware of what is going on? My colleague outlined the mental health impacts and I commend her on conducting the aforementioned survey and reaching out to people. It is hard to say no to one's children when one cannot afford something. It is really hard to make a choice between paying for electricity, which is increasing in price and the Government did nothing about that, or car insurance. All of these things are happening. Real life is continuing for people and all the while they are having the only income support available cut from under them. The cut involved is enormous. As Teachta Kerrane has pointed out, the average cut for some is more than €200 per week.

The Minister mentioned the role of the temporary wage subsidy and employment wage subsidy schemes and I want to reference the plight of Aer Lingus workers. She and I have spoken about this previously but it may come as a shock to her to learn that the issue has not gone away. These people are still experiencing difficulties dealing with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, getting their forms stamped by the company and dealing with issues at Intreo offices. The net effect is that some are being left with only €75 per week. As the Minister knows, due to the failure of the Tánaiste to stand up to the banks, mortgage breaks are now coming to an end. Mortgage payments are falling due and in some instances, through no fault of their own, people will end up in default because €75 per week is just not going to cut it. I ask her to consider appointing a person in her Department to liaise directly with Aer Lingus workers and the staff in Intreo offices. The approach is a bit hit-and-miss, which is not doing anyone any favours at the moment. These people are absolutely desperate.

The Minister talked about how effective the PUP and other supports have been. She extolled the virtues of the various schemes and that is fair enough but when they were put in place, people might have had a small amount of savings and might have been able to access a payment break on their mortgage. They did not have to prepare their children to go back to school. All of those debts have now fallen due, along with an increase in the cost of electricity. Their costs are going up as the Government is cutting the supports available. Nobody is suggesting that our resources are infinite but politics is about making choices. The Government made a choice to cut supports to a group of people who have had their work taken from them through no fault of their own. They were working hard in viable businesses. They are available for work but there is no work available. People in the entertainment industry, for example, are available for work but they cannot work. It is not the case that they will not work; they cannot work at the moment and they need support to get them through. Their jobs were viable before they were shut down and the hope is that those jobs will come back again. We know that 1 million people are worried about the tsunami of domestic debt that is coming at them. It is the job of the Government to look after their mental health and their financial well-being. The Government must give them the small amount of support that they will need to be able to get through the next few months. They want to be back at work.

The Minister mentioned the plight of carers, who have been long-neglected by this and the previous Government. I sincerely hope that she is not trying to pit carers, people with disabilities and those in receipt of the old age pension against those workers who have just lost their jobs because that would be an awful thing to do.

Covid-19 has been an earthquake for our economy and the epicentre of that earthquake has been among those in low-paid employment, predominantly in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors. The repercussions for them and their families have been enormous. The introduction of the PUP was a lifeline for these workers and their families when it was introduced back in March. However, it also highlighted the fact that our social insurance system is not fit for purpose, something that we must rectify as we emerge from this crisis.

The cuts to the PUP in mid-September came at the worst time for individuals, leaving workers and their families exposed to the impact of further public health measures and we cannot underestimate that impact. As the State finds itself in level 3 this morning, the loss of jobs is inevitable. In my own county of Donegal, PUP claims rose by 33% when we moved to level 3 just under a fortnight ago. Instead of consolidating support for these workers, the Government has decided that this is the time to cut them which is a grave mistake. We know that the average recipient of what is now €300 per week under PUP was earning more than €500 per week before being laid off, something that the Government failed to mention in its amendment. Reversing the cuts to the PUP and reintroducing it at a rate of €350 per week will offer these workers security as they face into the real and ever present prospect of unemployment in the weeks and months ahead.

I also want to talk about the EWSS, which is mentioned in the motion. That scheme is not fit for purpose.

As I said when it was introduced in legislation back in July, it provides no support whatsoever for workers earning below €151.50 per week. That is 153,000 workers who are locked out of the scheme and significantly it cuts the supports for employers for workers in comparison with the previous scheme by as much as 50% for some.

As counties enter level 3, the scheme is inadequate and it needs to be addressed. We need a scheme that guarantees 85% of take home pay for low-paid workers and that guarantees between 50% and 70% of take home pay for other workers, depending on the impact on their employers. This virus will be with us for quite some time and we need to make sure that our income and wage supports can shield workers and families throughout this period.

I also welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. Cutting the PUP payment has caused immense worry for workers and their families. Many workers have only returned to work after months away, only to be told their workplaces must close again. Those on the PUP have been told that they must face cuts of up to €200 a month to their supports and yet this Government has seen fit to ignore the need for longer payment breaks for already hard-pressed borrowers.

We have to be realistic. Covid-19 will be with us for a long time to come. Workers and businesses will require a major level of support from the Government. Promises that we are all in this together ring hollow, particularly when the Government decides to cut supports like this. We have certainly heard that message ringing hollow this week. Workers and their families are facing into a period of intense disruption and uncertainty. Many households are worried about debt and what will happen if the restrictions go on and we are forced to curtail the economy further. We should be increasing supports and not lowering them. We should be making the banks give loan repayment breaks, not allowing people to fall into arrears on their loans and mortgages. We should remember that we bailed out the banks. Now is the time for them to repay their debts.

Household debt cannot be the inevitable consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. If we want to make it out of Covid-19 in one piece, we must ensure that workers and their families have access to essential financial supports now. We are at level 3 now and NPHET has warned that if matters do not improve drastically we will be at level 5 before Christmas. Workers and businesses deserve clarity and support as they face these hugely challenging circumstances. We cannot abandon them to huge stress and uncertainty at a time when so many people are already struggling financially. PUP cuts must be reversed.

I welcome this Private Members' motion and I thank the Deputies who have brought it forward because it is so desperately needed. At a time when this Government has just caused chaos and confusion to most people, it is time for clarity and to show people support. From the beginning, the Government has said we are all in this together but the cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment have shown that this Government does not include everyone in being in it together.

It is a huge issue for people because they must decide on whether they can turn on the heating or not. For some people, this cut of €50 will mean a full shop for the week or will represent the ability to provide their families with necessities such as nappies, food, milk formula or filling their cars with petrol or diesel to drive their children to school. This €50 is a huge issue for these people because it makes all the difference for families. Now is the time for the Government to show leadership, to show people it understands the implications of the payment, to show that it understands that this was as mistake and to go back on this cut. We have given Dáil Deputies pay increases, we have appointed 64 special advisers, we have appointed super junior Ministers and there have been increases across the board for the Government and the establishment but ordinary people are only facing cuts.

I found it shocking that in the Minister's earlier comment she said we must look at the comparison between carers and people with disabilities and to put them against people who have lost their jobs for no reason but the pandemic. That is the attitude of this Government, to play the most vulnerable in society off against each other. I am standing here asking the Minister and the Government to listen to common sense and reason for God's sake and to give this payment back to people who desperately need it.

I thank the sponsors of this motion for bringing it forward. This is a serious issue for people across the whole country. Everywhere we went we came across families, even before there was a pandemic, who were living on the verge of poverty. They are the working poor and they got up every day early in the morning, went to work and worked hard. Yet, the level of remuneration they received from that work kept them just above the breadline and that was the case for many people. When this pandemic came and they went on the pandemic unemployment payment of €350 per week, they were in a worse situation. Many of them have told me they have come to a situation where they have to reassess what they can do, what they can spend their money on and what they can plan for. Holidays and so on are certainly out of the question. Now we find the Government has cut the PUP back down to €300 per week for many of them. While the Government may try to claim that the money simply is not there for this payment to continue, the reality is we cannot afford not to protect and look after people in these circumstances. This Government has to stand by the ordinary people of this country who are doing their best in the context of this pandemic.

Poverty is a huge issue across all sectors of our society, rural and urban, and many people are on the verge of it. I recently spoke to someone who talked to me about young women going into his or her shop who were getting school uniforms and having to pay for them over a number of weeks because they would not have the money to pay for them straight away. This shop owner told me that their mothers used to be in that shop 20 years ago doing the same thing and he asked if their children will be back in doing that again in 20 years time. That tells us there is a cycle of poverty that needs to be addressed and this time of a pandemic is one when the Government should be reassessing how everything is looked at and how we look after our people. That section of people, who work hard and who do their best, are the ones who are put to the pins of their collars.

I know from speaking to accountants who are dealing with businesses that are trying to access the wage subsidy scheme that it is much more difficult to access than the original scheme. They are finding it hard to access it and a whole lot of rules and regulations have been put in place which they do not need. The Minister and the Government need to step up to the mark and protect people in these circumstances. We have a choice here between looking after people and not looking after people. It is as simple as that. People can talk about the cost of it and at the end of the day, the cost of it will be people's mental health, which was referred to by Deputy Kerrane earlier on. Many people across our society are really worried and stressed about this.

I talked with that same shopkeeper I mentioned early about depression as well and we discussed whether or not people are depressed because they are poor or if they are poor because they are depressed. The truth is that both of those factors are at play. People in our society find that they are in really difficult circumstances because when they are under pressure and they feel they cannot afford the basic things in life, they cannot have a sense of future and look forward to things or try to develop a future for their children and themselves. It is important that the Government supports this motion and restores the PUP payment.

I want to speak in favour of the motion and to speak specifically about the cohort of workers who are in receipt of the payment of €300 per week. As we are in a level 3 lockdown, the inevitable consequence is that thousands more people will lose their jobs. The Minister is telling us that approximately 129,500 people are in receipt of the €300 rate and that this represents 60% of the prior average income for this group of workers. That is the same cohort of workers who will feel the brunt of this lockdown, however, because they work in bars, restaurants, tourism and hospitality. A lot of them are on modest incomes but a significant proportion of them are single income households with families who are earning anywhere between €50,000 and €80,000 per year, depending on where one works and what that establishment is.

The Minister's suggestion that there is a jobseeker's payment that these people can move to and that those of them who have dependants will benefit on a pro rata basis by applying for a jobseeker's payment does not give us a real picture of the effects of the loss of income on that cohort. We do not know how long the lockdown will last. Even if it ended tomorrow, there would still be a lag effect before the relevant sectors returned. The case in point, which all of us have articulated, is the entertainment sector. Approximately 31,000 people in the sector have been seriously affected by this cut and would probably find themselves in that cohort.

Even if we take at face value what the Minister said on the payments of €250 and the €203, although I do not fully accept her argument that these people were worse off on a net basis, I still believe she has to look at those who are on the payment of €300 a week because they include people with mortgages and many single income households with families. Even when these people move to a jobseeker's payment or other such payment they will be net losers. These are the same people who will have an obligation to pay their mortgages. If the boiler breaks or a tyre change is needed on their car, the marginal effect of having to make these payments is much more adverse on families in that cohort. In the context of budget discussions, I ask the Minister to revise the Government's position on that group of workers. As we speak, that cohort of workers is not getting any breaks from the banks, as has been articulated already by the proposers and supporters of the motion. If they fall behind on mortgage payments, I do not need to tell the Minister the consequences this would have for those families. I ask that she take on board the pleas being made on behalf of that cohort of workers. They are the people who go out to work every day and keep the economy going. They have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Since 12 March, some of them, for example, those in the entertainment sector, will not be able to go into an Intreo office and say they can now go carrying a hod up a ladder on a building site. They simply do not have the ability to pivot into or find work in other sectors. This is the variable or factor that is not being taken into account.

As a Deputy, I have an excellent working relationship with officials of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection when acting on behalf of my constituents. Those officials show professionalism par excellence when dealing with representations I make on behalf of my constituents. The Minster, however, has a problem with Intreo. The time lag, machinery and obstacles that apply to people in that cohort need to be sorted out. They include the revision of forms and the seeking of further information when a person transitions from the Covid payment to a jobseeker's payment. It causes major stress for families.

On balance, we would be better off if, for this very uncertain period, the €350 payment was restored or reviewed. That would give people some headroom to meet any overheads they have while society is going through this turmoil. We have not seen the time lag effects of the lockdown that was announced this week. It will have the effect of pushing more people into the Covid payment bracket. The Government needs to revise its position in respect of the cohort of people on the €300 payment. These people are in entertainment and the tourism and allied sectors. They have massive overheads. They have children of schoolgoing age and car loans and we need to look after them. When the economy comes back again they will jump back into work but we cannot put them into poverty. That is the point I am trying to make to the Minister. They cannot be reduced to poverty. We need a social floor, a protection below which they will not fall. I ask the Minister again to please consider the cohort within the €300 bracket.

I thank the proposers for tabling this motion, which is very important, especially one week from the budget. Effectively, we are talking about the very essence of a republic. It strikes to the heart of the role of the State. I believe the role of the State and the very essence of a republic is that it wraps its arms around citizens in times of greatest need. There has never been an occasion when citizens have needed the protection of the State more. I will discuss all that this incorporates over the next seven minutes or so.

There was a time at the start of the pandemic when it genuinely seemed as if we were all in this together. The pandemic rocked us to our core when it emerged and our responses were founded in the old principles of collectivism. All of a sudden, things we were told could never happen started to happen very quickly. We rid ourselves of private hospitals and had a single-tier health service because we were told we could not have a dual health service in the middle of a pandemic. For a long time, people who argued and advocated for a ban on evictions were told such a ban would be unconstitutional. Overnight, however, we had a ban on evictions. We then had a recognition that the €203 that had previously been paid to people who were unemployed was simply not enough to live a life of dignity. We then made provision for a payment of €350. Across the political divide, we joined together in saying this baseline figure would give people the opportunity to live with dignity.

I do not like to use the old phrase that a leopard does not change its spots but it certainly seems to be the reality. As the weeks and months since the pandemic started have progressed, people have fallen back into their old ideologies. This argument is very much about ideology and how we decide to protect our citizens. Sudden, society is vulnerable again because our hospitals are vulnerable due to a lack of investment for decades. As the pandemic engulfs us again, there are people whose main fear at the moment is that they may be evicted from their homes because the ban on evictions has long since gone. In recent months, the idea has emerged, one that has been motivated by people who have exploited workers, that €350 is too much. The small amount of €350, which has given people the means and capacity to feed themselves and not to have to worry about bills or where they will get their next three square meals, is suddenly considered too much. I believe this is a fundamental debate about how and why we can provide a reasonable amount to citizens to give them the means by which they can live in dignity. In recent weeks, the decision was made to reduce the pandemic unemployment payment to €250 and €200, which is simply not enough.

I will strongly advocate for the reinstatement of the €350 for those on the pandemic unemployment payment. I do not do this naively. I fully understand that it will be an expensive measure. I absolutely accept that but so be it. The need for the State to wrap its arms around its citizens and think big by providing the greatest degree of protection will never be greater. It has been said time and again that we have access to the means to borrow.

I dispute the Minister's statement that decisions taken in the past have given us the means to borrow. This is revisionism and an attempt to validate the austerity suffered by people in this country after 2007 and to suggest it was a just approach. I argue strongly against that. The decisions taken during those times left individuals in positions of chaos, destroyed the recovery we could have had and prolonged the pain we suffered. If austerity was the right approach then, we would be arguing for it now but that is not the case. Every economist in Europe is saying that we need to flood the economy with cash. It is suggested that, when we reopen, the cash we have will be spent as it has been. It will not. A sum of €350 will not sit in bank accounts. It will go into our local butchers, it will pay for shoes and it will revitalise every village, town and city in this country really quickly. We need this money floating around the economy. There are very strong economic arguments to invest now.

The amount being spent on the pandemic unemployment payment is mentioned several times in the amendment but there is no mention of the sums we are recouping in VAT, which would otherwise be lost. I promise the Minister that almost every cent is being recouped for the Irish economy.

I have very little time left so I will move on to the Government's amendments. While still new to the Dáil, I am fascinated by some of the commentary included in Government amendments to Opposition motions. In many ways, this belies an ideology. One particular line in the Government's amendment on which I would like to comment reads "notes that those 47,900 recipients whose prior income was less than €200 per week received €203 this week, and are better off than when they were working". That is an horrific statement. These people who are said to be better off with their extra €3 are living in precarious positions, being exploited in the workplace and have absolutely no capacity to afford unaffordable childcare yet we are heralding the fact that they are receiving an extra €3. I promise the Minister that every single one of those people are feeling anxious and vulnerable and this will be scant comfort to them.

Another part of the Government reads "acknowledges that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has advised that it will take a reasonable and flexible approach in applying the ‘genuinely seeking’ work condition to workers who remain temporarily laid off in sectors that have not reopened". The only people who will find any comfort in this are politicians who have never sat in an Intreo or social welfare office watching a person having to justify his or her poverty while being scanned and probed and having every aspect of his or her life up for discussion with an inspector. Despite the fact that this seems to be intended as reassurance, the discretion of a social welfare officer is not the same as a legal protection and this never should be. People need legal protections. I will not stand by and see this become a precedent for allowing the Government to tell people not to worry as the Department has told its officials to go easy. In the absence of legal protections, that amounts to absolutely nothing.

The Covid crisis is a serious threat to the life and limb of many people around the country. We must do our best to reduce the number of cases within the State and do the simple things and avail of the low-hanging fruit as best we can. I refer to working from home where possible, social distancing, wearing face coverings on public transport and in shops, and so on.

The figures have increased worryingly over recent weeks but thankfully, hospital admissions, ICU admissions and fatalities are far lower than when cases were at a similar level at the start of the pandemic. We have to thank our healthcare workers for employing new and better treatments to protect those who have contracted Covid. We also have to thank those who work with older people. They have protected them in a way in which they were not protected at the start of the Covid crisis. It is worrying to hear of recent clusters such as the one in County Laois.

Covid is hammering people in many ways. The health service is being hammered. It is now widely thought that the number of excess non-Covid deaths will be greater than that of Covid deaths because of the vast reduction in health service capacity. The pandemic is also hammering people's mental health in a big way.

As we are talking about today, Covid is also wiping out whole sections of the economy. Many businesses are being totally wiped out by Covid. This is also causing major poverty. The truth of the matter is that the idea that we are all in this together was never true. It was never the case that we were all in this together. Not one person in Leinster House has lost a shilling in income during the Covid crisis. Covid has focused much of its economic damage on those earning low incomes and on young workers. That is where the pressure is felt. Even with the PUP and the other supports the Government has provided, these sections of the economy have suffered radically due to the Covid crisis.

If we want to protect workers, we need to be careful to protect their working environments both through preventative measures as regards Covid but also through being careful with restrictions. I did some study on this issue this morning and Ireland is an outlier with regard to the severity of restrictions. I will give an example. There are a number of hotspots throughout Europe, including Madrid, Paris and Berlin. All of these cities have a far greater number of cases of Covid per 100,000 of population over the last 14 days than Ireland but none has shut its restaurants. Madrid, Paris and Berlin have kept their restaurants open. We need to be very careful that we, as a well-paid body of politicians, do not take people's ability to work and earn an income away from them. Counties Mayo, Kerry and Waterford all have extremely low levels of Covid in European terms but they are prevented from functioning. That does not make sense. We have to be careful and make sure that we do not see another rise such as we saw in April and May but we also need to make sure the country does not overstep the mark and become an outlier as regards restrictions.

It is absolutely wrong for the Government to push these hundreds of thousands of people out of work while, at the same time, radically reducing the economic protections provided for them. Removing the rent freeze while imposing restrictions on people's individuals' ability to earn an income, not proceeding with mortgage protections for families that are going to find it increasingly difficult to pay mortgages over the coming years, and reducing the PUP is absolutely wrong. It is a disgrace that a person on the Minister's income would desire to reduce the income of people who have been forced out of their jobs and are now on incomes which make it impossible to pay for rent, food, housing, healthcare, education and all of the other aspects of life that are important to them. If the Government is going to drive in a particular direction with regard to restrictions, it has a moral responsibility to help people along in economic terms and to protect them.

When one measures the steps taken in respect of rent, mortgages and the PUP and compares them with the largesse of the Government when spending in its own circles, that largesse is absolutely incredible. The Government feels the necessity for as many as 70 special advisers, many of whom are earning well over €100,000. The Government sees it as logical to give itself a pay rise in the middle of this pandemic. It does not make sense whatsoever. On the one side we are reducing the wages of people earning €18,000 while, on the other side, we are increasing the wages of those on €80,000. Is any part of the Minister's mind uncomfortable with that? Is she uncomfortable with people on such a low income being the target for wage reductions while those on substantial incomes receive pay increases? In other words, the wealth inequality in our society is being actively pushed by the Government. I ask the Government to think about the steps it has taken over recent weeks, to see the radical divergence between restrictions and income supports and at least to marry the two.

The two should be put in the same direction. As we go into the depths of winter with restrictions, we need to make sure we support workers.

People in this State are being told that if they experience symptoms of Covid, they should not return to work and if their children have symptoms or have been prevented from going to school, they should stay at home and mind those children. That is all fair and well if the Government provides the income supports for them to do that but if it cuts the income legs from underneath them, they will not be able to do it and many of those individuals will find themselves in the workplace when they should not be there, thereby reducing the State's ability to fight this illness. This is a serious illness. We need to do the best we can to fight it but pulling the income rug from underneath people's feet at this time is not the best way to do that.

The pandemic unemployment payment should be fully reinstated and backdated at the higher payment rate for all recipients. The top rate of Covid-19 unemployment payment was reduced in September from €350 to €300 and it is due to be reduced in early in 2021 to €250. The cuts are putting thousands of individuals into poverty. The rate of the payment should be restored for people who lose their jobs due to the imposition of level 3 restrictions in their county. The €350 payment should remain in place until at least the end of the pandemic to give anyone a chance of survival. The last time a Government gave such a break was to the bankers in 2008, when €64 billion was provided to bail them out. The Fianna Fáil-led Government defended the measure. Today, when ordinary people require a fraction of that expenditure, the same party defends the cuts to Ireland's most vulnerable. This clearly underscores where the Fianna Fáil and Government priorities are placed. This is shameful. People are breaking down in tears when speaking on the telephone to Deputies because they cannot make ends meet on the newly slashed pandemic unemployment payment. There are other areas affected since things shut down under level 3 last night, including cafés, restaurants and pubs. These are all in dire trouble. The Government cannot stand idly by and wait to decide whether it is a good idea to save their businesses, it has to step in now. We must look to the future. NPHET made a recommendation to go to level 5, the Government made a decision to go to level 3 but the consequences are devastating for businesses. I am hearing from people in west Cork who are very worried.

There is a question of whether people in receipt of Covid payments are allowed mortgages, which is wrong. A constituent told me recently that he is not allowed go on the Cork County Council housing list because he is on a Covid payment. These issues are scandalous. These are payments to cover people's basic everyday living and they cannot be cut.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle might tell me if Deputy Michael Healy-Rae arrives in the Chamber, as we will share the remaining time otherwise.

The PUP must be reinstated. We came through a great deal in the first stage. People have put their shoulders to the wheel, ní neart go cur le chéile, and worked hard but with the change in Government and the consequent hand over, the ball was dropped. Now we are back in level 3, which could have been level 5 as we saw on Sunday night. Some say it may as well have been level 5, because it means utter devastation for business people, for ordinary people and workers.

There is health advice from NPHET from experts, which we should take, but the Government has to take the economy into account as well as people's mental and physical health. Many procedures have been put off and we should consider the number of people who are dying or will die because they have not had the proper checks, cancer screenings and so on over several months. There are blockages in the hospitals and a lack of throughput.

Then there are students, who were forced back to college in September, two weeks ago. They had to pay their accommodation and fees and then one evening they were told that they would get their lectures at home. They have signed contracts. A parent was speaking to me half an hour ago who had signed a nine month contract. We must do something about that.

Deputy Michael Collins mentioned the €69 billion bailout to the banks, which was astonishing and we will pay for it, as will our grandchildren, but this situation is serious damaging to people, families and people's ability to pay. The decision to apply level 3 from midnight last night will have an impact on the businesses that have reopened and those which were trying to get off their knees, dust themselves down and work. These businesses are the enablers in our economy as well as community groups. Community gardaí did good work too. The PUP must return to €350 and remain at that. People cannot live on the wind. They need a modicum of income because they have families and bills. Businesses that have closed still have utility bills to pay during this time. They get no mercy from the banks, insurance companies or from the vulture funds if they have slipped into those areas. Unlike other European countries, we have brought in no legislation to deal with the banks and insurance. We could do it with the stroke of a pen if the will was there but the Government does not have the will to do it. It must tackle insurance and the banks and have the moratorium extended. It is totally unfair to throw these people under the bus. Our economy will not recover. The mental health of our people will not recover.

I am glad of the opportunity to raise the PUP as pubs, restaurants and many businesses in Kerry have been closed down again since last night. I am glad to see Deputy Griffin is in the Chamber. County Kerry should not have been closed down at all, as our numbers are very low and there are many other counties that also have very low figures and which also should not have been closed. Since they have been, publicans and restaurant owners are now unable to trade. They will need support because they cannot live on the wind. There are hundreds of workers who are now unemployed this morning, when there was no need in the world for that. We all know that there is only so much in the well and the well will go dry. As I have said before, we do not have gold, oil or diamonds in this State. The only way we can keep the country going is by people working.

I appeal to the Minister and the Government to ensure that these people receive a proper payment and to restore the €350 payment which was available at the start. If it was needed in March, it is needed in September, October and even more as we go into the dark winter.

Owners of pubs, restaurants and other businesses have bank loans. The banks must be brought to heel and stall their demands for repayments. I worry that many businesses will not open. Many will not open or worry that in three or four weeks' time, when they switch on their lights again that the Government will just say, "Lads, off with ye again". It is harder to get going in the middle of winter than in the spring or early summer when there are some visitors coming to the county. Many of these pubs will never open again after being closed now. It was hard enough to open in September and then they only had two weeks before the Government closed them again. It is absolutely ridiculous. I appeal to the Government to talk to the banks and ensure no pressure is put on these people at this time. I am very worried about mental health and the psychological effect this will have on many people, even the customers. I appeal to the Government to address these matters.

I thank Solidarity-People Before Profit for bringing this Private Members' motion to the Dáil.

It is very apt as Dublin and Donegal were already at level 3 and overnight the whole of the country went to that level. This will have a major impact on jobs, particularly in the retail and pub sectors, as well as restaurants.

As I stated yesterday in a question to the Taoiseach, the Restaurants Association of Ireland is warning that 180,000 jobs will be at risk and the vintners' group has warned that approximately 50,000 jobs are at risk. This will have a major impact on those workers, who have some sort of outgoings putting a roof over their heads either in the form of a mortgage or rent. A person entitled to €203, €250 or €300 per week would not have enough money to keep that roof over his or her head; there is no correlation there whatever.

The number of workers in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment since Dublin and Donegal moved to level 3 is phenomenal. There has been talk of the cash being spent but the Government is saying to these people that they can live on €300 even if they had been earning €500 but still just had enough to get by, or that people can live on €250 if they had been earning €299. The Government Members are meanwhile blatantly accepting a €2,000 increase, with the salary in their pockets going from €96,000 to €98,000. They are putting €40 per week into their pockets while saying what they have said to these workers. These people get up early in the morning, to use the phrase we have heard over the past number of years, and work late at night. The Government is telling them they can afford to live on €300, €250 or €203. It is immoral and Government Deputies should hang their heads in shame if they insist on keeping these rates.

Yesterday, I told the Taoiseach that the ban on evictions should be reintroduced and we should stop increases in rents. It has been pointed out already that there is phenomenal wealth in this country. This Government has refused to tax this wealth, including assets and investments, and as has been pointed out here already, a minimum 1% tax on that wealth could pay for what we are seeking. Even if it did not, it would be morally correct for the Government to increase the payments to €350 again.

The Minister of State is a member of the Green Party, which should really consider what it is doing by supporting the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Government, members of which are clearly living in a bubble, complete with a salary for each Deputy of €98,000 per annum, while telling other workers to live on peanuts.

I fully support the motion, moved by the Members of People Before Profit-Solidarity and RISE. This is very important in itself but it is even more important with what has happened this week and the way the news from the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, has been received by the Government. I specifically refer to the Trump-like reaction of the Tánaiste, who rubbished the news when he got it but then told his party members, knowing full well that the news would be widely circulated, that it would happen anyway. In the meantime, the base is getting a great boost from how the hard man is taking on the freeloaders who are putting the people who work for a living to the sword, as they will not be affected anyway.

The motion we are debating attempts to protect those workers who are still feeling an impact from the Covid-19 response. It is most important that the Government learns that it is not the much-lauded entrepreneur who makes business work but rather the workers staffing that business. At the very least it is an equal partnership, with businesses becoming successful because of their workers. The problem is that the Government does not see it that way. The Tánaiste sees freeloader workers seeking to screw money out of the State, and the State must protect the vital entrepreneur from all those workers who just want to screw extra or unwarranted money from those entrepreneurs. I wonder how many others in the Government see it that way.

There is no doubt some innovators out there are always trying to make new businesses or trying new things and they must be supported but so must the workers. In most business there is an unequal balance between employer and worker, with the State firmly on the side of the employer when it should be on each side equally. There is no doubt that if the State had been more balanced, the outbreak would not have been as severe as we have seen, although conditions in our hospitals would always have left things very difficult.

What has been the common denominator in all the outbreaks? Low pay is the main reason for them. In this country workers cannot afford to get sick because if they do, they will not be able to pay their bills. Nursing homes, meat factories, shops and restaurants all have low-paid workers with no rights and very little support. There is not much surprise that these are the sectors in which we see outbreaks.

My county of Donegal shows these indicators where the largest outbreaks are evident, as low pay is predominant and there is a high dependence on social welfare. These people mainly work in non-unionised workplaces, and the rights of workers are the last thing on anybody's mind. This is the case even with the workers, who may be afraid to put themselves in a position of perceived vulnerability in pushing for union representation, as they know they will be targeted by employers. It is only by balancing the vulnerability of workers that this can be changed; we probably do not have the time to address this during the crisis so the only option is to maintain the Covid-19 payment at its previous level.

There is no doubt the Covid-19 payment was introduced in a panic by the Government, which was under pressure to react quickly to what was happening on the ground. This demonstrates how the Government naturally knows what is right but it is only when its members sit back and think that they want to penalise workers so inherently; what they are doing is wrong. They cannot get away from that mantra of representing people "who get up early in the morning". It is a problem for them. In reality, the Government could represent all of us better by protecting workers and making it possible for them to take sick leave if required.

We are all in this together; give me a break. If the Government goes ahead with the cuts instigated for the PUP, not only will it do a great injustice to hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs and income as a result of the pandemic and the measures taken by the Government to address it, but it will also do something very dangerous in undermining the collective social solidarity that we need, now more than ever, to address the rising infection rates and the new restrictions that must be imposed, with more restrictions almost certainly coming down the line. The Government would be playing with people's lives and livelihoods in a very dangerous way if it did not restore the PUP.

In the self-absorbed and self-obsessed world that people like the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, seem to inhabit, where they are more interested in attacking the public health team in a cynical and politically motivated way, maybe €50 or €100 of a loss in income means nothing. It may be a trifle, irrelevant to the political and self-obsessed considerations that seem to drive certain people in this Government. For ordinary working people who are suffering, whose mental health has been affected and who have lost their jobs and incomes, €50 or €100 is the difference between keeping one's head above water and drowning in bills and loan or mortgage repayments that cannot be made or insurance costs. There are daily costs that are hard enough to manage at the best of times but it becomes significantly harder when one loses a job and income is cut to €350 and impossible when it is cut to €300 or €250.

Members of the Government must step out of the bubble and get their heads around this. I got messages about this all day yesterday.

For example, a musician said that he has his NCT coming up this week, and that costs €55. If he has to get his car fixed, it could cost him €200. He has the banks now crawling all over him because the Government has lifted the moratorium on mortgage repayments. He has his landlord crawling all over him who could evict him if he cannot manage the rent. What is that musician supposed to do?

What is the taxi driver supposed to do? In the next few months, taxi drivers whose cars are more than ten years old have to prepare now to decide whether they can afford a new car. They cannot because they have lost a year's income. Given the suitability test and the NCT that they have to take and the insurance they have to pay, how are they supposed to do it? They cannot do it. The Government needs to get their heads around this and get out of the bubble.

The Government should note today the opinion polls, which show 63% of people are in favour of more severe restrictions to deal with the Covid threat. That is a big sacrifice that people are making, just as they have made all year. They will undermine that commitment people have to solidarity and to protecting our older and more vulnerable citizens and the front-line healthcare workers who are protecting us if they smash people's income and cut it to the point that they cannot manage. I urge the Government to think about this. They will be making a very dangerous mistake if they do not restore these payments. Nothing has changed since March and April in terms of the costs that people have. Nothing has changed in the rents or mortgages they have to pay, the insurance they have to pay, the childcare costs, the costs of feeding their family and all the rest of the costs that people have to survive, but the Government has cut their income at the same time and its measures mean hundreds of thousands more will lose their jobs. People are willing to accept those job losses if it means that we get out of this mess and save lives, but if the Government does this, it will be stabbing in the back the people who are putting themselves on the line.

I refer to some of the Government's excuses for not doing this, for instance, the cost. Has the Government even bothered to listen to the fiscal advisory council? I am a member of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, which met the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC. Yesterday, it its statement, the council made it absolutely clear there would be no fiscal problem in restoring the PUP. In fact, if more restrictions were likely and if we continue in the period where there is grave uncertainty and large numbers of people out of work, they recommended maintaining and increasing the economic stimulus. I asked IFAC officials directly if there was a fiscal problem with restoring the PUP payments and they said that the Government has latitude. In fact, they were urging that money continue to be put into families, workers and households pockets for macroeconomic reasons as well as for reasons of economic justice and fairness. That argument, therefore, is simply nonsense. It is the Government reverting to type with a penny-pinching austerity ideology and a fundamental class prejudice about people who, through no fault of their own, must rely on social welfare payments to sustain themselves through this period. The Government should drop that nonsense, and drop that dishonest argument that there is a fiscal imperative that requires it to cut the PUP. IFAC does not think so. Frankly, they are not exactly agents of the radical left. If they are saying that, we can reasonably take it that from a fiscal point of view, it is entirely acceptable to restore the PUP.

It is nauseating that the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Varadkar, tried to present himself the other night on "Claire Byrne Live" as some sort of champion of the poor and the dispossessed. We heard him state the reason the Government cannot restore the PUP is consideration of all the other people on lower social welfare payments. That is a sickening argument. In fact, the Government should increase disability, jobseeker's and all other payments to the same rate as the PUP. The income that people on disability have to survive on is an absolute scandal as it is. Similarly, there are no jobs to seek for tens of thousands of people who are out there who would like to work but are on the jobseeker's payment. They should also receive the social solidarity of the PUP in the current extraordinary circumstances.

On the grounds of fairness and maintaining the social solidarity, we need to deal with Covid-19 and, indeed, on the grounds of macroeconomic prudence to sustain our economy through this period, I urge the Government to restore the PUP and the wage subsidy payments or it will feel the wrath and anger of people. It will demoralise people and it will add to the heavy burden and hardship they are going through having to deal with this pandemic if the Government pulls the economic and financial rug from under the families and workers that we depend on to protect us against Covid-19.

I would like to say a particular word regarding some of the groups hardest hit by all of this. Taxi drivers are due to have a drive protest on Friday. They have cancelled it because of the restrictions but they will be outside the Dáil tomorrow at 12.30 p.m. in small numbers to highlight their plight. Music, entertainment and events people, bar and restaurant workers, caterers and tourism industry workers, all of whom have lost their jobs and incomes as a result of the pandemic measures, need to be supported. If we are all in it together, the Government has no choice, morally or in any other way, but to restore the PUP payments.

I thank Deputies for some very useful inputs on these important relevant supports. As outlined by the Minister, I assure this House and the other House that the Government is fully committed to supporting people at this difficult time.

At the onset of the pandemic, the previous Government was quick to take action and introduce the range of measures initially intended for a 12-week period to support people and businesses to cushion the sudden and severe income shock that the pandemic brought. All the available data from the CSO, the ESRI and the Central Bank referenced by the Minister indicates that the measures taken by Government have worked very effectively. Unfortunately, the impact of Covid-19 has been more persistent than anyone anticipated in March. The Government has, therefore, extended the availability of the schemes so that they apply for a full 12 months. In addition to ensuring that the schemes operate in a more equitable manner in respect of standard social welfare payments, the changes made in September also mean that they are sustainable over this much longer time frame.

The PUP continues to support 205,000 people through a weekly income support. Approximately 800,000 people have been supported since its introduction in March with a total spend of just over €3.6 billion to date. This figure will increase to €5.2 billion by April next year. These figures are not insignificant and Government must not only ensure that people are supported, but that the supports provided are both equitable and sustainable in order that we are not continuing to build up increased debt for future generations. Calibrating payments such as PUP, as we did in September, to link them to prior employment earnings enables us to do that.

As outlined earlier, access to the PUP scheme will remain open to new applicants until the end of 2020. This means that anyone who loses his or her employment due to Covid-19 can continue to benefit from this support.

I understand the calls to introduce a flat rate of €350. As Deputies are aware, however, the flat rate was introduced as an emergency measure which was paid at just over the normal two-adult household rate. This was to ensure that the maximum number of claims could be processed as quickly as possible and that two-adult households would not lose out. This was achieved, with about 800,000 people receiving a payment and a peak of just over 600,000 payments made was reached in early May.

When circumstances changed, and weekly claims' volumes reduced, it was appropriate to revisit the design of the scheme to make it more equitable and to ensure that it could be more sustainable in the longer term. The linking of the payment rate with previous income and earnings is fair and more sustainable. As outlined earlier, the Government did not make these changes without considering their social impact. The ESRI undertook a social assessment of the impact of the introduction of revised rates from September 2020. As the new rates of payment are pay related, the data indicate that the impact of the changes on income distribution and poverty is very limited and that the PUP continues to provide a very strong support to those who lost their incomes, including people at the lower end of the income distribution. The Government has protected those on the lowest incomes. People who had prior income of less than €200 a week now receive €203 a week, while those who previously earned between €200 and €300 per week now receive a payment of €250 per week. The average earnings in that category is €248 per week, so most people in the category still receive close to what they did when they were in employment and, on average, they are paid at a slightly higher rate with their Covid-19 payments.

People who had a prior income that was over €300 per week now receive a payment of €300 per week, and approximately 129,500 people, or 60%, were paid this €300 per week. This rate represents in excess of 60% of prior average income for this group. The PUP is payable to people aged between 18 and 66 years old, which is consistent with other social protection income supports paid to persons of working age, including jobseeker's payments. The primary State income support for people aged 66 years or over, regardless of whether they are working, is the State pension, either the contributory State pension or the means-tested non-contributory State pension.

The PUP rate was set in line with the two-adult household rate of payment for jobseeker's schemes and in this regard it is important to note that the two-adult household rate for the State pension is €470 per week, which is much higher than the PUP rate. In addition, people in receipt of the State contributory pension, which is based on PRSI contributions, can retain all of their State pension and employment income and retain that pension payment if they lose employment income, thus guaranteeing an income support. People in receipt of the non-contributory or means tested pension who are also in receipt of an employment income may have their pension payment increased if they lose that employment or if it is reduced. The payment of the PUP in addition to these pension payments would have resulted in many workers aged over 66 years receiving very high payments, greatly in excess of payments made to other people who lost their employment. This would not have been equitable.

Turning to supports for different sectors, I acknowledge the difficulties that certain sectors are facing, including the arts, entertainment, tourism, hospitality and taxi sectors as was mentioned. As the Minister indicated, the social welfare system assesses and pays people as individuals and not as members of a particular occupation or sector. This ensures that people are treated equitably and any differentiation of welfare payment rates based on people's employment sector would be inequitable. Given that many occupations also work across sectors and many people work in more than one sector, any sector or occupation-based payment system would, in addition to being inequitable, be extremely difficult to administer.

Recognising that self-employed people face particular difficulties in moving from the certainty of income on the PUP to uncertainty of income if they try to restart their trade, special arrangements have been introduced which mean that self-employed people will not lose their entitlement to PUP if they take up intermittent or occasional work. This is particularly relevant to many of the sectors mentioned earlier. The Government has also introduced a range of targeted supports for these sectors through the provision of various grants, loans, waivers and mentoring support and advice.

In the context of the genuinely seeking work requirement for the PUP, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has again confirmed that the Department will take a reasonable and flexible approach in respect of workers who remain temporarily laid off in sectors that have not yet fully reopened due to the restrictions necessitated by Covid-19 and who can realistically expect to return to their employment when the occupational sector reopens. Such workers will not be required to seek work in other unrelated sectors. Supports will, however, be available to those who seek to take up training or education opportunities following the allocation of some €112 million as part of the July stimulus package.

Moving to the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, and the new employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the Government has committed to supporting employment by means of a wage subsidy scheme until the end of March 2021 through the TWSS and its replacement, the EWSS. These schemes are operated by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. Under the TWSS, payments worth €2.8 billion were made to more than 66,000 employers. The design of the EWSS reflects the changing environment respecting the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, a number of flexibilities have been included in the scheme, such as the ability to claim a subsidy for newly hired employees and seasonal workers, while the rates and eligibility criteria have been modified so that the support is sustainable into the more medium-term.

It is expected that payments worth a total of €2.25 billion will be made in support of approximately 350,000 jobs in respect of the beginning of 2021. The primary employer criterion for qualification for EWSS and TWSS is, appropriately, based on turnover rather than profitability. To qualify, the employing enterprise must be able to demonstrate that it is operating at no more than 70% in respect of turnover or customer orders received from July to December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. This turnover test has been specifically designed to target the EWSS at otherwise viable employers whose businesses continue to be adversely impacted by Covid-19.

Regarding Deputy O'Reilly's query concerning Aer Lingus, and to clarify, officials in my Department have engaged with Aer Lingus and an agreement process is in place for the company to provide any outstanding information to its employees to support their social welfare applications. Applications for jobseeker's claims from Aer Lingus employees are being prioritised within the Department so that awarded claims are being paid as quickly as possible. To date, more than 2,100 claims from Aer Lingus employees have been awarded. A small number of clerical issues have affected some applications and I urge people in that situation to contact the Department again.

Matters relating to workers' employment terms, conditions or entitlements, such as pay, are outside the remit of the EWSS and the TWSS. Under both schemes, however, the employer is expected to make the best efforts possible to maintain as close to 100% of normal income as is possible for the duration of the subsidy. Checks and balances are in place to ensure fairness to employees and employers. I understand that Revenue has been conducting a programme of compliance checks on employers who have availed of the TWSS to confirm that they meet the eligibility criteria and that employees received the correct amount of subsidy due to them. To date, checks have been initiated in respect of some 35% of TWSS employers, which represents some 67% of employment supported by the scheme. These checks will continue for the next several months and I am advised further that inquiries to date have indicated high levels of compliance by employers with the requirements of the scheme.

I think we are out of time at this stage and we are already running late. I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. I call Deputy Bríd Smith to respond.

I am sharing time with Deputy Barry. I will take seven minutes and he will take three minutes.

What jumps out at me immediately is that we must have this discussion, this debate, this row in context. I state that because everything is always relative and proportionate to the whole. This morning, I read in The Irish Times that a report from the Swiss bank UBS stated that during the height of the pandemic, from April to July, the wealth of billionaires on the planet rose by more than one quarter, or 27.5% to be precise.

I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, from the Green Party to listen to these details because these are the types of issues that I am familiar with representatives of the Green Party raising in the past. The wealth of billionaires on the planet is at a record high of some €8.7 trillion and these billionaires achieved this record high by betting on the recovery of global stock markets during the lockdown. We must, therefore, have this discussion about cuts to people's payments relative to the story I have just referred to, because, as the Deputy Paul Murphy pointed out earlier, Ireland has, shockingly, the fifth highest rate of billionaires per capita. That means there is a great deal of wealth sloshing around this country. We are talking today to tens of thousands of workers who, since 17 September, have lost €50 a week and more who, since 1 September, have lost more than €100 a week in the wage subsidy scheme.

Some Members might think that is not a lot to lose. Both the Minister and the Minister of State quoted extensively from ESRI studies. The ESRI was asked to undertake an impact assessment of the introduction of the revised rates of payment since September 2020 and it found that the changes had very little impact on the risk of poverty. It is extraordinary that the ESRI could come up with that sort of finding 20 days after €50 per week was taken from those families. In the course of that 20 days, as moratoriums were lifted, they have been looking at bills from banks and landlords. Many of them are facing the possibility of eviction. We tried to have proposals for the restoration of the anti-eviction legislation introduced by the Government brought before the House today, but we were blocked from doing so.

This is a hugely important issue. Other Deputies have pointed out the cruelty of putting people in a situation where they cannot put food on the table or meet increased energy costs. The House should note that Bord Gáis is insisting on retrieving the €100 it gave to people with card meter bills by way of a 60% recoupment each time they make a payment. This means that on these cold days, if people put €20 in their meter, they will get approximately €8 of energy for it. That has to end. It is extremely cruel to families that are already struggling as we move into the winter. It should also be noted that if people are out of work for a long period, because of the pandemic and through no fault of their own, they will use more energy to keep their homes warm and bright. People are faced with more and more struggles but the Government thinks it is not so bad to take money from them. It as an arbitrary and cruel mechanism to make the books balance and extend fiscal prudence. Members of the Government should remember that this is not their money. It is not coming out of the back pocket of the Ministers for Finance or Employment Affairs and Social Protection. This money will ultimately be paid back by all of us, just as we are still paying back the bank bailout of €64 billion.

Under the EWSS, there has been a severe reduction in payments from €410 to €203 per week. Many workers cannot claim a top-up unless they are not rostered for work. In the case of Aer Lingus, for example, many employees are finding it impossible to get their bosses to sign their social welfare reforms. They are struggling from week to week without any income because of shoddy or irresponsible administration by the companies for which they work. In other countries, severe strictures are placed on companies that avail of a wage subsidy. For instance, CEOs cannot receive bonuses and it is not permissible to engage in tax avoidance via offshore subsidies. There is nothing like that in this State other than the requirement to show a 30% decline in turnover. Companies that made vast profits prior to the pandemic, including meat plants, Boston Scientific, Ryanair and Aer Lingus, have reserves built up from those profits but they have their hand out to the State to avail of this scheme. The cut in payments under the EWSS, which is hitting workers, is unjustifiable, as outlined in our motion.

I refer to a point that was repeatedly raised by both the Minister and the Minister of State in speaking against the motion, namely, the relevance of the pay that people were on prior to receiving the PUP. A total of 129,500 people are being paid at a rate of €300 a week on average, which represents in excess of 60% of prior average income for that group. Is it not clear to everybody that what is wrong in this country is the level of low pay that is predominant throughout the economy and is affecting the tens of thousands of workers who are the subject of this cut? The levels of low pay are shocking and probably among the greatest in Europe relative to our cost of living. If somebody is better off on PUP of €300 a week, it means they had to be earning less than €20,000 a year before the pandemic. That is a shocking indictment of the system under which we live. This week, the Government endorsed a 10 cent increase in the minimum wage. Hooray to that. It will go such a long way to enabling people to put more gas in their meter and make repayments to their landlords and banks.

What the Government is doing is immoral, not just on its own but also in the relative context of the wealth that exists in this society and the emergency we are facing. The previous Minister said that these supports were introduced in the context of the emergency arising out of the Covid pandemic. The pandemic has not gone away. The pandemic does not recognise bills and it does not recognise the desperation people are suffering. I ask the Government to do the right thing by reversing these cuts.

It is amazing what one learns when one listens very carefully during a Dáil debate. I was under the misapprehension that what the Government did in September was cut the PUP by €100 or €50. It turns out I was wrong and the payment was not cut at all. Many people believed that was what happened. They believed the Government, in taking €100 from them, had taken food out the mouths of their children or, by taking €50 from them, had endangered the roof over their heads. It turns out they were wrong. They should have listened to the Minister of State. He is a member of the Green Party, whose deputy leader said this week that the party needs to have a focus on social justice. He told us that the Government did not cut the payments in September but calibrated them in such a way as to link them to employment earnings. George Orwell said many years ago in his tremendous essay, "Politics and the English Language", that the abuse of language in politics "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable". It is unfortunate to see the Green Party signing up to that type of language in this debate.

I have to give it to the Government that it is not being inconsistent on this issue. In fact, it is being entirely consistent in attempting to make working people pay for the Covid crisis. We can see that is the case when the Government introduces an increase in the minimum wage of 10 cent an hour, which is less than 1%. We see it in the move to end the mortgage moratorium and the blanket ban on evictions. We see it in the cut in the PUP of €100 or €50 a week, with the threat of more cuts to come. We will vote on this motion in this Chamber at 9.30 tonight. I urge every worker who had €100 or €50 taken in September, with the threat of more to come, to tune in and pay careful attention to who votes for a motion in favour of restoring the PUP and who votes against it. I urge them to focus in particular on the votes of Government backbenchers, including the Fianna Fáil Deputies who benefited from the votes of working people in the general election in February and the Green Party Deputies who got votes from young people looking for radical change. We will see very clearly when the votes are cast this evening which side of the debate people are placed.

I thank Deputy Barry. We must now consider the amendment in the name of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time this evening.